A German-language revenge Western set in the Alps during the 1800s? Sounds questionable, but The Dark Valley is a little gem that came out of nowhere—at least, I hadn’t heard about it. The film begins with a mystery: a young couple is hiding in a basement when a group of men swarms down on them, beating the man and dragging the woman away, screaming.
Years later, a German-speaking stranger from the States with daguerreotype camera arrives in a gloomy town on a gloomy day just before winter breaks. The town is filled with gloomy, unwelcoming inhabitants under the rule of Old Brenner (Hans-Michael Rehberg) and his six backass, brawny sons. The stranger, Greider (Sam Riley), convinces the Brenners to let him stay to take photographs of the valley, and they set him up with widow Gaderin (Carmen Gratl) and her daughter, Luzi (Paula Beer), who is engaged to Lukas (Thomas Schubert). Something is amiss, and the Brenners clearly don’t take kindly to strangers. War erupts after two of the Brenner boys die in “accidents.” Who is this Greider, anyway
The Dark Valley combines flavors of Clint Eastwood, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers. Its heavy and brooding tone is palpably serious, even bordering on comical. It works, though—director Andreas Prochaska manages to avoid crossing over into cheese. Visually, the look is crisp, artful, and beautiful. I could have done without hearing either version of “Sinnerman”—one by Clara Luzia and the other by One Two Three Cheers and a Tiger—but I enjoyed this film for what it is.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-
Wings of Desire is Wim Wenders’s take on being human, immortality, love, passion, and maybe even destiny (or lack thereof). Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander play two ageless and voyeristic angels, Damiel and Cassiel, who watch over Berlin, eavesdropping on ordinary citizens’ most personal thoughts. Sometimes they try to help out the mortals; sometimes they don’t. No one can see them except children, and they don’t have any real interaction with anyone. All is well and good until Damiel falls for trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin)– then things get dicey.
Wings of Desire is a beautiful looking film that closely resembles the midcentury Italian and French neorealist films I’ve seen of late: haunting and gorgeous black and white shots of the city, a cast of mostly everyday characters (except the angels, of course), a hazy plot, and heavy existential themes. Poetic and dreamlike, it’s slow and very German but well worth sticking with to the end. Seeing the Wall, which stood until 1989, as just another part of the landscape adds a cool historical note. Peter Falk as Der Filmstar (a.k.a. himself) and a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert as the setting for one of the last scenes are both nice touches– they provide playfulness in what otherwise would be an overly somber film.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) B
I have been aware of Metropolis since the late Eighties—I can’t remember whether Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video or a now defunct industrial dance club by the same name in the equally defunct Cleveland Flats is responsible for bringing it to my attention; if that makes me a rube, so be it. For whatever reason, though, I never bothered to seek it out. I’m glad I finally saw it—Metropolis is a cool film, even as it approaches a century.
It’s a lot more than I thought it would be. The plot is simple enough, as silent era films are: capitalism and technology have run amuck in the future, and the workers live in a drab underground city while the elite live in a bigger and nicer city above ground. The workers, who run the machines that keep the city going, are planning a revolt. Plot aside, Metropolis as a whole is pretty grand. The sets are amazing: big, industrial, and busy, many shots reminded me of the Chicago Loop. The score is textured and soothing—it actually lulled me into a trance at points. The 2010 restoration we saw—it includes 25 minutes of footage assumed lost until uncovered in Argentina in 2008—is gorgeous, giving Metropolis a crisp look that belies its age. Fritz Lang had a lot to say about capitalism, class, technology, science, progress, and even religion—it’s not hard to find scholarly materials online.
What strikes me most about Metropolis is that for as old as it is—everyone in it has been dead for awhile—its vision of the future, while extreme, is really not that far off from reality.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) A